Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 32

WORTH READING

A KAFKAESQUE FIGHT
Over a Literary Legacy
Review by Ronald Goldfarb

K

afka's Last Trial: The Case of a Literary
Legacy by Benjamin Balint tells the
story of the 2016 trial in Israel over
the universal literary rights to the work
of internationally acclaimed Czech
author Franz Kafka. The National Library
of Israel, concerned about its cultural
heritage, argued that it was the natural
repository for Kafka's papers because
he was Jewish. The German Literature
Archive in Marbach, which had already
acquired a manuscript of The Trial,
claimed ownership because Kafka
had lived in the country and wrote
in German. Kafka's friend Max Brod -
critic, novelist, and a fellow member
of the "Prague Circle" of writers - had
fled Germany during the Nazi regime
and settled in Israel. The heirs of Brod's
secretary, Esther Hoffe, held the papers
and claimed ownership.
Kafka died of tuberculosis in 1924 at the age of 40.
His work was relatively unknown until 1963. Brod
was his closest friend and had championed his
literary oeuvre. But Kafka asked Brod to destroy all
his literary papers, important works of literary modernism as it later developed. Instead of obeying his
friend's instruction, Brod preserved Kafka's work,
preferring to be his literary executor, not executioner. Brod willed the papers to his secretary,
who sold some and passed the rest to her two
daughters upon her death in 2007.
Ironically, the claimants were Israel (where Kafka had
never lived and which never published his work in
Hebrew) and Germany (where Jewish books were
once burned and Kafka's family perished in the
Holocaust). The circumstances of Kafka's literary
legacy were aptly called by Balint a "surreal irony"
worthy of the term "Kafkaesque."

Book cover, courtesy of W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

32 WASHINGTON LAWYER

*

MAY 2019

*

Balint, who lives in Jerusalem, does a superb job of
describing the intellectual debates about the claims
for Kafka's manuscripts. Should they be in Israel
because Kafka was Jewish and the property was
there, or in Germany because that was where he
lived and wrote? Kafka never went to Israel despite
considering that idea, but it was there that Brod
immigrated during the Nazi regime and continued
his lifelong efforts to preserve Kafka's papers and
enhance his literary reputation.
The book notes that other authors before and since
Kafka had sought to keep some of their work from
posterity: Virgil, Samuel Clemens, Philip Larkin,
Vladimir Nabokov, and Edward Albee. "I respect only
the moments at which I wrote them," Kafka once
stated, so why preserve "such miscarried works"?
Balint carefully presents the conflicting arguments
and rationales about who owns art. Should the
now-famous author's work be in private hands or
available to the public, and, if so, where? It was a
conflict rich in political, legal, and ethical questions.
Experts and advocates made their cases, and Balint
explains them fairly. Jewish pride came into play,
with Kafka's ambivalence about Zionism an underlying theme. Ironically, did Germany want absolution by claiming his work? When Kafka's papers
were originally brought to Israel, it had not yet been
recognized a state by the UN.
Eventually, the Israeli courts decided that Hoffe had
been given Kafka's work by Brod not as a gift but in
trust, and that she had no right to sell any of it or to
pass it on to her daughters. In the end, Kafka had no
say in resolving his literary legacy.
Probably Israeli politics as much as international law
led to the expected result, which involved questions
of law and literature beyond jurisprudence alone.
This book presents a rich analysis of literary questions with profound intellectual implications.
Readers will respect Balint's treatment of the issues,
ironies, and politics.

Ronald Goldfarb is an attorney, author, and literary
agent in Washington, D.C. Read more of his work at
www.ronaldgoldfarb.com.


http://www.ronaldgoldfarb.com https://www.dcbar.org/

Washington Lawyer - May 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Washington Lawyer - May 2019

Digital Extras
Your Voice
From Our President
Practice Management
Calendar Of Events
Cybersecurity Rules & Risks For The International Lawyer
Borders, Refugees & A Global Crisis
Climate Change: Turning To Law In Race Against Time
Member Spotlight
Global & Domestic Outlook
Worth Reading
Media Bytes
Attorney Briefs
Ask The Ethics Experts
Disciplinary Summaries
The Pro Bono Effect
Community & Connections
Special Coverage: Youth Law Fair @ 20
Last Word
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover1
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cover2
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 1
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 2
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 3
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Digital Extras
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Your Voice
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - From Our President
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 7
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Practice Management
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 9
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Calendar Of Events
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 11
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Cybersecurity Rules & Risks For The International Lawyer
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 13
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Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 16
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 17
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Borders, Refugees & A Global Crisis
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 19
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 20
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 21
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Climate Change: Turning To Law In Race Against Time
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 23
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Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 25
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 26
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 27
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Member Spotlight
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 29
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Global & Domestic Outlook
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 31
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Worth Reading
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Media Bytes
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Attorney Briefs
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 35
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Ask The Ethics Experts
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 37
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Disciplinary Summaries
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 39
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - The Pro Bono Effect
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 41
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Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Community & Connections
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Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Special Coverage: Youth Law Fair @ 20
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - 47
Washington Lawyer - May 2019 - Last Word
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